Did Abraham ever know he was the founder of the Jewish nation and the father of the Jewish people? Or was Abraham, although he is the prototype of all believers, aware only that he was the husband of Sarah and the father of Ishmael, Isaac, Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuah?
There is an ancient legend about how Abraham, son of idol maker Terah, came to believe in the one true God. The story tells how one night Abraham was out on the hilltops looking after a flock of sheep. As he lay on the ground gazing in awe at the great arch of heaven above him, a brilliant and beautiful star shone with great glory. As Abraham watched it move across the sky, he was filled with wonder and said to himself: “This is my god. I shall worship this star.” But as he watched it the hours passed and the star sank out of view and was gone. He asked himself, “What good is it to worship a god that dies out in the darkness until I can’t see it any more?”
Then there rose above the hills the silvery moon, flooding the earth with her delicate light and dimming the radiance of the stars. Abraham welcomed the moon and said, “Oh moon, you are more beautiful and greater than any star, you are more worthy to be my god.” The moon too passed across the roof of the earth and sank away into darkness. Abraham wept and cried out, “If my gods leave me then am I just the same as other people who live in error?”
Finally dawn arrived and the sun majestically rose, splendid and radiant, greater than the moon and stars. It scattered the darkness and shattered Abraham’s doubts. He said, “You are greater than the bright star and the silvery moon, I shall worship you.” How sad he was when even the great sun sank over the edge of the world and disappeared like the star and the moon.
Abraham was left all alone, but as he gazed into heaven a brave new thought came to him. Abraham thought of the one who was behind the star, the moon, the sun – the maker of them all. Abraham cried out, “Listen everyone, it’s all become clear to me. Today I turn my face to him who made the heavens and the earth; he alone is my God.”
When Abraham was 99 years old and his son Ishmael was thirteen they were circumcised (Genesis 17:22–27) as instructed by God. The rabbis teach that at this moment Abraham was no longer a Gentile, but had become a Jew. This is held up as a model for faith, and in Judaism Abraham is the foremost example of a model proselyte, or convert.
Jesus gave a simple instruction for anyone who wanted to be a disciple. It’s called the Great Commission and in Matthew 28:16–20 it goes like this. “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
The instruction to ‘make disciples’ can be understood as ‘enrol students’.
Convert means to turn from allegiance to one lord, and pledge allegiance to another lord and in the case of Christianity that is Jesus. So to convert to Christianity means that a person leaves their old way of life in order to become a disciple or follower of Jesus. Jesus has told us to “make disciples of all the nations.”
Far too often it has been understood with the emphasis on ‘make’ rather than on ‘disciple’, and the consequence of that misunderstanding has been all sorts of misery.
You might hear Christians talking about how many people they have converted, or asking each other how many conversions they have achieved. This has led in the past to trying to convert non-believers through bribery, demanding a confession in return for a gift.
The term used in China was ‘rice Christians’ to signify people whose sole reason for attending church was to collect the free rice. It is right to feed people, but not to demand they pretend to convert first. At the extreme are conversions done with the barrel of a gun, where people are forced to offer allegiance to Jesus under penalty of death.
In light of this let me ask you a simple question: Who converted Abraham?
As we ponder the answer to this question, let’s look at other conversions in the New Testament.
In Acts 10 there is the story of Peter and a Roman army officer, a centurion named Cornelius. As Peter was talking with Cornelius, the Holy Spirit came upon him and Cornelius started “speaking in other tongues and praising God.” Then Peter baptised Cornelius, and he was considered a full Christian and a convert.
The important point of Cornelius turning did not start with Peter talking to this devout, God-fearing man, and was not a result of Peter’s amazing preaching. The story begins at about 3 o’clock one afternoon, when an angel came to visit Cornelius. The angel gave Cornelius instructions to go and fetch Peter from Joppa and bring him to Caesarea. And angels went to Peter to tell him to go with the men to Cornelius’s house.
Who then converted Cornelius?
In Acts 16 there is the story of a prison guard who became a Christian after talking to Paul and Silas. The prison guard came to them and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They explained and then even though it was late at night “he and everyone in his household were immediately baptized.”
But before that there was a turning point in his life when his conversion began in Acts 16:26 with an act of God. “Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off!”
Who then converted the prison guard?
In Acts 8 there is the story of Philip and the treasurer of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority. An angel told Philip, “Go south down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza.”
The treasurer was there, seated in his carriage and “reading aloud from the book of the prophet Isaiah.” The Holy Spirit told Philip to go over to the man.
Philip talked to him about God and the meaning of the book he was reading and then the treasurer saw some water and insisted on being baptised. “He ordered the carriage to stop, and they went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.”
Who converted the Ethiopian state treasurer?
The most dramatic conversion is of course that of Paul, who was busy at the time persecuting Christians and throwing them into prison. We read in Acts 9 how Ananias went and found Saul.
‘He laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized.’
‘그래서 아나니아는 그 집을 찾아가서 사울에게 손을 얹으며 말하였다. “사울 형제, 오는 길에 당신에게 나타나셨던 주 예수님이 나를 보내 당신의 눈을 뜨게 하고 성령을 충만히 받도록 하셨습니다.” 그러자 즉시 사울의 눈에서 비늘 같은 것이 떨어져 나가고 그는 다시 보게 되었다. 그리고 그는 일어나 세례를 받은 후 음식을 먹고 힘을 얻었다.’ (사도행전 9:17)
Who converted Paul?
The answer in almost every case seems to be that it was a partnership, but most of the work was done by God. People were not converted by there own effort, nor were they converted by the efforts of others.
Recently a Muslim man in Qatar approached a Christian and asked for help. He was having dreams of Jesus standing in a boat and saying ‘Come to me’. Now Jesus is his saviour.
Paul explains in Romans 4 that God comes to us first, and not because of anything we have done. “Circumcision was a sign that Abraham already had faith and that God had already accepted him and declared him to be righteous.”
Paul says that God is working to establish “a right relationship with God that comes by faith.”
Conversion happens when a man or woman responds to God’s invitation to join him in a relationship, to step into the boat with him. Our part in this is to be ready to show that person how to live as a disciple and to explain the way to them. We never convert anyone. And then when they turn we are at hand to perform the baptism that is a sign of that conversion.
It isn’t our responsibility to make anyone believe, or make anyone follow Jesus. It isn’t our failure when a person fails to turn to Jesus. Just make sure that at all times you are ready to explain your faith so you can be a partner with God in transforming lives.
“Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.” (1 Peter 3:15)
“마음에 주님이신 그리스도를 거룩하게 모십시오. 그리고 여러분이 간직한 희망에 대해서 그 이유를 묻는 사람에게는 언제나 부드럽고 공손하게 대답할 준비를 하고 선한 양심으로 생활하십시오.”
We can help people understand what God is doing in their life, but it’s not us who are changing them. We aren’t the ones who do the converting, it’s the work of God who calls us to him.
It is God who brings the dead back to life and who creates new things out of nothing. Praise God.